Boston University

Trump’s Southern Wall is Eroding America’s Democracy by Megan Kalili

The world often looks to the west to seek democratic values, and with modernization, many countries have become more economically stable. With this new fiscal stability comes an era of increasing democracy, yet the upkeep of democratic values in the prosperous country of the United States has greatly decreased this year. According to the Freedom House’s newest released report, the United States was outranked by more than 50 countries this year. Just less than ten years ago, the United States only had 30 countries ahead of its rank. I believe that this democratic backsliding is due to the populist values of President Donald Trump. Trump’s populist style of presidency is defined by his anti-immigrant policy making and his authoritarianism. In a working paper called Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States, political scientists outline Trump’s populist and authoritarian tendencies. The paper claims that these tendencies as well as America’s ideological and partisan polarization are “a distinct challenge to the resiliency of the American regime’s institutional checks and balances.” Trump’s form of populism is categorized as protectionist, or even nativist. His challenges to the citizenship and participatory rights for minority groups serve as a threat to American democracy because they raise the possibility that those participating in democratic procedures are undermining the general will by doing so. During Trump’s candidacy in 2016, his idea of a border wall captured the attention and admiration of those who lost their jobs to immigrants, and the older generation of white males with xenophobic and white-nationalist views. These two different strands of voters created a coalition of populism supporters. Trump’s bad manners are another sign of a populist leader.

Populism causes democratic erosion for many reasons, and the way I see it is that populism is not much different than fascism. Besides the use of violence and authoritarian leadership, the only real difference between a populist leader and a fascist leader is that populist leaders such as Trump or Sanders view themselves as democratic. Both fascists and populists like to appeal to those who are being wronged by a class of opposers. Whether it be Trump appealing to white nationalists who feel that immigrants are ruining the America they once knew, or Sanders appealing to those who feel manipulated by the wealthy class. Yet, Trump still claimed he was nothing like the corrupt politicians who came before him which worked as a blanket of democracy covering the fascist undertones of his populist mentality. Trump’s form of populism threatens our democracy because it is unpredictable, irrational, and anti-empirical. His presidency is based on his resentment towards minority groups, and when politics are based on emotions it is a recipe for democratic backsliding. The idea of building a wall and the government shutdown that has come with it is a symbol of democratic erosion in and of its own. As freshman congresswoman Ocasio Cortez has said, “The truth is, this shutdown is about the erosion of American democracy and the subversion of our most basic governmental norms.”

Lieberman, Robert C., Suzanne Mettler, Thomas B. Pepinsky, Kenneth M. Roberts, & Richard Valelly. “Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States.” Working paper.

Photo by Reuters/Carlo Allegri. Creative Commons Zero Liscense


  1. Mackenzie Cannon

    February 14, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    I really enjoy how you used a significant indicator of democratic erosion (populism) and tied it in with a current dilemma in the United States. I find that for the average American to truly understand the backsliding of US democracy, relevant examples must be referenced in a clear and concise way to create a sense of urgency within the reader. I found your point about fiscal stability versus the upkeep of democratic values interesting. I do consider Trump to be a populist leader, which leads me to believe that because our country has a stead-fast focus on fiscal stability, his “coalition of populism supporters” would let our democratic values erode at the expense of this fiscal stability. In regards to this wave of American populism, I would consider Trump himself a threat to democracy because of his “unpredictable, irrational, and anti-empirical” ideals.

  2. Marianna Moulis

    February 24, 2019 at 11:27 am

    This was an interesting read, the way Megan links fascism and populism is a way of framing that is worth examining. Also, to categorize Trump’s tactics as “protective” populism was a specific and accurate depiction. If anything, Trump has created his own form of Populism that does border fascism and is definitely inherently nationalist. Though I agree with the notion that America’s democratic backsliding is tied to Trump, I do not think that he is the sole cause. If anything, Trump is a symptom of backsliding that has been caused by an array of issues. Including too much party warfare and self motivated politicians who are serving to achieve their self motivated goals. There should definitely be more research towards examining the extent of how Trump has caused America to backslide.

  3. Daniel Caissie

    February 27, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    Overall, I believe Megan made her opinions very clear and gave solid insight as to why she felt the way she does about America’s democratic backsliding. One major piece that stood out to me was her reference to how Trump won 2016 presidential election. The border wall was obviously a staple point of Trump’s campaign and was aimed at those who disliked the U.S. taking on more immigrants year over year. Though it should not be considered the reason he won the election. I feel the current democratic backsliding is occurring from symptoms over the past few presidential terms, where citizens were not satisfied with the countries direction. To say that Trump won the election from the votes of white populist (racist) males is a bit naive considering these individuals make up a small percentage of the U.S. population. In my opinion they definitely helped him win but they were not the overall cause of him winning. As a whole I believe the largest issue within our democracy is feminism (equality) and how individuals would say “anyone but her”, referring to Hilary Clinton during the 2016 election. Constantly hearing and seeing statements like this brings me to believe that democratic backsliding is the least of our worries if in the 21st century we are still struggling over gender equality on a national scale.

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